Spruiking, touting, and soliciting

I went spruiking for work yesterday—meeting a prospect with my portfolio under my arm. I was surprised to find out that spruiking is a uniquely Australian word.  Elsewhere in the English-speaking world they refer to this vigorous public promotion of goods or services as touting.

In the US spruikers or touts are also known as solicitors—a term that we Australians use for different sorts of people, that is, lawyers and, rarely, prostitutes who stand on street corners to solicit custom.

Spruiking is such a mainstream word that Melbourne City Council has a local law, Spruiking And Miscellaneous Amendment Local Law 2006. I mention it here because it has an official definition of both spruik and tout.

Spruik includes haranguing or addressing members of the public to encourage them to enter premises.


Tout includes soliciting business to premises whether by addressing members of the public directly or the emission of music or other noise calculated to attract business to premises.

and goes on to explain that:

Unless in accordance with a permit, a person must not in a public place or from premises adjacent to a public place, offer to sell goods or solicit or try to attract trade or business or tout or spruik or allow any person to solicit or try to attract trade or business or tout or spruik.

Which would indicate that there is some distinction between touting, spruiking and soliciting which  is not obvious from the government speak or bureaucratise in these definitions.

But where does spruik originate? It is a bit of a mystery. It would appear to come from the German root, sprechen, to speak. And perhaps it made its way to Australia via South Africa, where the Low Country Dutch of Afrikaans in some places has sprook. However I have not been able to confirm this talking to the South Africans I know.